Solved after 33 years? Case of first missing boy shown on milk carton

Man confesses to killing of six-year-old whose disappearance prompted long-running campaign

New York

Police in New York said yesterday they had a suspect in custody in the landmark case of six-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished while walking to his school bus in Manhattan 33 years ago.

The arrest of a man, identified as Pedro Hernandez of New Jersey, may bring resolution to one of the most famous unsolved murder mysteries in the city's history. The boy's disappearance led to one of the first missing persons campaigns that involved printing his photograph on milk cartons.

The announcement drew scores of media vehicles and reporters to the SoHo block where the boy disappeared in 1979 and where his parents still live. "An individual now in custody has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz," said the city's police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.

Years after a police investigation went dry, Etan was formally declared dead in 2001. But two years ago, prosecutors re-opened the case. Last month, detectives returned to the block where he vanished and tore up the basement of a building where, in 1979, a handyman had a workshop and occasionally gave Etan pocket money for helping out. They acted after cadaver-sniffing dogs sensed something there.

In a video-taped confession, Hernandez reportedly told police on Wednesday that, after grabbing the boy on the street – it was the first day that Etan's family had allowed him to walk unaccompanied to the bus stop – he strangled him and then deposited him somewhere in New York inside a bag and a box. He later returned to retrieve the box from where he had left it, but it had disappeared.

It may be some time before detectives can determine whether the confession by Hernandez holds water. Suspicions had previously centred on Jose Antonio Ramos, a friend of the Patz family's babysitter, who was later convicted of child molestation for which he remains behind bars.

Ramos was targeted in a civil suit by the Patz family in 2004 for the child's death, but has always maintained his innocence.

Nobody who lived in New York at the time of the crime will have forgotten it. In addition to the milk cartons, flyers were posted all over the city bearing Etan's picture. His disappearance also ignited a nationwide awareness campaign for crimes involving the disappearance of young children. After the return of investigators to the neighbourhood in April, members the Patz family asked for privacy and none would answer their door last night.

However, neighbours expressed hope that this would not prove to be another dead-end turn in the case. "I just hope they get some resolution after all these years. It's just an horrific thing," said Carla Seal-Wanner, 58, who moved to SoHo in the early 1980s.

Timeline: Manhattan mystery

25 May 1979 Etan's parents allow the six-year-old to walk to his school bus stop alone for the first time. They never see him again.

1980s He becomes the first missing child featured on milk cartons.

1982 Detectives find a suspect, Jose Antonio Ramos, but he is not charged. The Patz family launches a civil suit against him for the crime after Etan is declared dead in 2001.

2012 Having re-opened the case in 2010, police search a basement near the Patz's New York home for human remains. A month later, Pedro Hernandez reportedly confesses to having killed Etan.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn